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Live: Tweeting a Trend – @artistsmakers on how #riotcleanup began

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Dan Thomson is the founder of the Empty Shops Network and started the #riotcleanup meme during the August disturbances.

He starts off talking about the Made In South Kilburn project. The estate was run down and written off by the council. It is a multicultural estate where a significant majority do not speak English as a first language.

The last government gave the estate £5million a year from the community fund. Dan found the money was spent in weird ways. The youth arts centre wanted a kiln room. When Dan suggested they share the adult education kiln room (in the same building) it was explained to him that the adult education was a different funding group.

Community funding made the groups competitive. A book was created to advise groups on how they can run the schemes.

Empty Shops Network worked in South Kilburn for six months where Dan saw the difficulties facing these communities.

We spent so much time there it gave us a real understanding.

Was up in London and had missed the first night of riots, but on the Monday the riots spread.

Things that struck him were stories such as Aaron the barber whose shop was smashed up.

On Monday night watching the rioting spread I was hooked on the TV news. Watching Reeves burn I thought, we have never seen anything like this. The police and firefighters weren’t there. Could see the traffic lights catching fire, the shops over the road were catching fire in the firestorm.

My granddad was a Londoner and I wondered what’s changed since the war? They used to go out with bombs being dropped on them.

I turned to Twitter and saw people getting angry. They couldn’t do anything, it was getting out of control. I thought there is something we can do. I knew what I would do if we were still in South Kilburn, I’d turn up with a broom and black sacks and ask them what we could do.

It was at this point Dan started asking people if they could get down to their shops. He started off at 10pm and by midnight he realised it had started to take off. Dan started making notes on a white board of who had committed to clean up. Pop star Kate Nash was the first person to volunteer.

It was me, a white board and a Twitter account.

When Dan hit the Twitter limit a friend, Sam Duckworth, set up the riotcleanup Twitter account. At 4.30am he went to bed. At 6am the phone started ringing. He was talking to media from 6am-9pm and didn’t leave his laptop. He was tweeting for people to bring him drinks and food.

My phone did not stop ringing.

Dan references the graphics showing the riot related tweets created  by the Guardian which shows the riotcleanup kicking off. It was massive at 8am when he was on Breakfast news.

If you want to make these things work this is what you have to do. You need to have Twitter working but also mainstream media. If the BBC are onto it, then it gets massive. The Guardian picks it up because they’re into Twitter.

Raul asks, don’t you need a riot

Dan: “No, I think you can do it for anything.”

He references Clay Shirky “organised without an organisation”.

There were something like 2,000 tweets a minute. People were watching the traffic.

At 4am someone else compiled a list of all the events tweeting and contacted the Metropolitan Police.

People were doing their bit, feeling like they had the power to do something.

Mike Batt offered the use of the Wombles.

He had a call from the Cabinet Office and the Minister, Nick Hurd, said the government wasn’t going to claim it as Big Society.

We had people at every level, willing to help us do the job.

The moment he knew it had worked was when he saw the Clapham picture of people holding their brooms aloft.

This daft idea had come to a moment when hundreds of people were in the streets with a broom.

I wasn’t in charge, I just pulled people together. This was anarchy but different to the riots.

Dan was visiting with his nan, who was worried he was up in London during the riots, when he had the call inviting him to Number 10.

Riot Clean Up started other things such as Riot Rebuilt. Kate Nash set up Riot Relief to help the 46 families who lost their homes.

People who lived in flats above shops suffered the most. There are 11,000 people who worked in the shops, part time workers with no job security, some of the shops won’t reopen. Those people have lost their jobs forever.

High Street Heroes is helping the shop workers. Riot Clean Up showed people they can take control.

We created an amazing burst of energy. We didn’t try and create an organisation or charity, we just passed the energy out to local groups.

Dan asked why is an account or hashtag better?

The hashtag is the best thing because it allows anyone to get involved. With an account, you can engage with it, but you can’t spread it about in the same way. Sam’s battery died in London, but someone did help him. There is a lot to be said about the power of hashtags.

We had about 100,000 people but not a mandate. Some were ultra conservatives at one end and the others were anarchists reclaiming the streets. That’s what a hashtag lets you do.

Richard asks about Twitter overload.

Not a lot of people on Twitter early in the morning. Still needed the whiteboard and notes.

In the afternoon community sites shared information taking it to a hyperlocal level. Twitter also saw an increase in sign up.

Dan now has more than 8,000 followers. He lost 200 followers who opened their account for Riot Clean Up and then closed.

Raul asks is this spontaneous?

Dan says he saw a tweet from Dave Gorman who had gone to bed depressed and woken up with hope having seen Riot Clean Up. The government said the riot clean up changed the mood in the city, giving people hope.

Raul points out  hashtags are wasted, but this shows how they can be used.

Rosie asks more about RiotWombles

Dan: It was later in the day, it gave a burst of energy.

Hannah asks if the government understands social media?

Dan: There are people there who do get it. There will always bit of sound biting at these times. The fact they dropped the plans to clamp down on Twitter, quickly, says the message has got across.

Another hashtag service Dan set up is worthingstuff.co.uk which shows realtime updates of #worthingstuff #worthingfood, #worthingart, #worthingstyle etc.

Adam: Will you be able to channel the energy into South Kilburn?

Dan hopes to have something to take the power of the riot clean up to a national level.

Chie mentions how MeetUp began as a response to 9/11 when the founder realised he didn’t know his neighbours.

“This is relevant because it’s about getting people together.”

Steve asks if these were riots?

Dan: “Saw text messages on phones saying ‘we’ve got trainers you might as well come along and get some too because the police aren’t doing anything’.”

“They weren’t protests, they were riots.

“It wasn’t a mob of thousands on the streets, there were groups of 20 to 30 people.”

Talking to police the Met tactics are used to dealing with hundreds of people.

They tried to kettle, two shield lines or riot police take a while to form and in that time the rioters jumped over walls. They thought it was something other than it was.

Rosie asks about the importance of images, such as the brooms in the air, the woman serving tea off police riot shields. How important are images over text?

Dan makes references to iconic images such as the punks snogging in Trafalgar Square as the image of the poll tax riots. For the riots the image of Reeves Furniture Store moved him, the woman jumping into the arms of the firefighters is another, but he hopes the defining images will be the people with brooms and the woman serving tea.

We see it live.

Rosie points out the world today gives instant news and images with digital cameras.

Adam asks about verification of tweets.

Dan commends Sussex Police for using their Twitter account to calm people down.

Dan’s account was also unfrozen by Twitter.

There is a short discussion about backlash and haters, but we ignore them.

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Written by Sarah Booker Lewis

September 12, 2011 at 8:00 pm

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